You Would Never Suspect These Crepes Were Eggless-cellent!

Who ever came up with a flax egg is a freaking genius! Egg substitute?! Yes, please.  I mean, this person should get an award for such a freaking brilliant and ingenious idea.  I love a good egg substitute for cooking and baking.  Don’t get wrong, I’m not an egg hater.  No, no.  I love me some eggs.   I love eggs fried, scrambled, baked, sunny side up, over-easy/medium/hard, hard-boiled, raw, pickled, poached, deviled, as a quiche, strata, fritata, a meringue, a souffle, a custard, in a dressing, and I’m sure there is many more ways to cook an egg.   But you get the point.  Eggs are egg-cellent.  Heehee, get it??   Egg-cellent, instead of excellent.  Nevermind.

Unfortunately, as I get older, my body has become less efficient at protecting me from things like high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, and many other ailments.  High cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes has already been encoded into my genetic makeup.  So it’s not like I can run and hide.  And actually, I did have a bit of a scare when I was in my late 20′s and learned that I was on the verge of developing high cholesterol.   I did have a total cholesterol of 215 mg/dL (the Adult Treatment Panel III guidelines state an ideal total cholesterol level of <200 mg/dL), but my LDL-C (aka, bad cholesterol) was low, my HDL-C (aka good cholesterol) was high, and my triglycerides were also low.  So my nurse practitioner wasn’t too concerned. I was given a prescription for a “lifestyle modification” and a cholesterol panel recheck in 6 months.  I left the doctor’s office feeling somewhat defeated, but it was also the best wake-up call for me.  I started getting into cycling, and modified my diet by eating out less, cooking and eating less butter/fried foods/eggs (the latter was a huge part of my daily diet).  Six months later, my cholesterol panel was flawless.  I realized that implementing some of the littlest changes resulted in the most positive impact health-wise.

Whole Wheat Vegan Crepes

1 cup whole wheat flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 flax egg (1 tablespoon ground flaxseed + 3 tablespoons water)
1/2 cup water
1 1/2 cups unsweetened, almond milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (for sweet crepes)
1.5 tablespoons agave syrup (for sweet crepes)

In a small bowl, combine the flaxseed and water, and mix.   Add the almond milk to the flax egg, and whisk together.   In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour and salt, and then add the flax egg mixture.   Whisk until all the ingredients have combined, resulting in a smooth and runny texture.   Let the mixture sit for about 20 to 30 minutes.

Heat a nonstick 8″ pan over medium-high heat.   Coat pan with nonstick spray.   Pour 1/4 cup of batter into the center of the pan and swirl to spread evenly.  Cook the crepe for about 2 minutes, until the bottom is light brown. Loosen with a spatula, turn and cook the other side.   Cook for another 2 minutes and remove to the cutting board.  Lay them out flat so they can cool.   Continue until all batter is gone.   After they have cooled you can stack them and store in sealable plastic bags in the refrigerator for several days or in the freezer for up to two months.  When using frozen crepes, thaw on a rack before gently peeling apart.

We served these with our favorite praline butter from Le Pain Quotidien, sliced bananas, and pistachios.  Yum.

Makes 8 crepes.

Calories per crepe: 75

Split Pea Soup with Canadian Bacon and Miniature Open-Faced Grilled Cheese “Sandwiches”

Split pea soup is ONE of my many favorite comfort foods starting today. Yes, you read that correctly. Today. I’ve only had split pea soup once in my lifetime before today, and I was in my early adolescent years when I tried it. We were taking a family trip to the Bay Area to see some friends and family for dinner, and decided to stop at Pea Soup Andersen’s for, well, a bathroom break. But what was supposed to be a bathroom break turned into an early lunch. We had always heard rave reviews of this place, and decided to see what all the hype was about for ourselves. For those who are unfamiliar with Pea Soup Andersen’s, it’s a California classic famed for its all-you-can-eat split pea soup, with a few restaurants found up and down California.

Well, we came, we saw, we conquered. And me no likey-likey at that time. I didn’t understand split pea soup. It looked like a big glop of green goo in my bowl. The texture, the color, and the flavors were unappealing. I had half a bowl, and did not pursue any further all-you-can-eat bowls. I mean, that’s what all the hype was about? Blech. So as a finicky teenager eater, I opted for some “real food” – pancakes – while my parents were eating bowl after bowl of soup. And to drive home my point of how “gross” I thought split pea soup was at that time, my brother also had the same experience as I and opted for pancakes, too.

One of our New Year’s resolution for this year was to make more soups. I was going down a list of soups to make today, and none seemed to appeal to my partner. Actually, she’d interject “split pea soup” after each soup suggestion I made. I made a yucky face at my partner’s suggestion, and was not excited. But I agreed, with some hesitation, which she doesn’t know (at least up until now). So I decided to give split pea soup another chance today. And I’m sure glad I did! OH EM GEE, I can’t believe what I missed all these years! I can’t wait to make this again.

I’m realizing I should listen to my partner more often… this seems to be a common theme this week :)

The recipe below is my own take on split pea soup. I searched through many different split pea soup recipes, but just wasn’t excited about any one in particular. I decided to use a few ideas here and there from several recipes, and added my own twists to make this fantabulous soup.

Split Pea Soup with Canadian Bacon and Miniature Open-Faced Grilled Cheese “Sandwiches”

5 cloves garlic, minced
4 large leeks, cleaned and dark green sections removed, chopped into small pieces
2 celery stalks, chopped
2 large carrots, chopped
1 large yukon potato, diced
1 pound (one 16 ounce bag) of dried green split peas, rinsed
2 bay leaves
2 quarts (8 cups) of low-sodium chicken broth
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 teaspoon liquid smoke (optional)
6 slices of canadian bacon

Heat a large pot or a dutch oven over medium-high heat, and heat the olive oil. When the oil is hot, add garlic, leeks, carrots, celery, and bay leaf. Cook until vegetables have softened, about 5 to 7 minutes.
Add potatoes, split peas and chicken broth.

Bring soup to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, for about two hours, until soup is thick. Remove the bay leaves at this time. With a hand-held immersion blender, pulse until you achieve a smoother texture. If the soup is too thick for your liking, thin out the soup with more broth (if you have extra on hand) or water. Season with salt and pepper. Ladle into soup bowls and enjoy!

Optional toppings:
1) Crispy, crumbled bacon, pancetta, canadian bacon, or Spam

Heat a nonstick skillet lightly coated with cooking spray over medium heat. Pan-fry your choice of pork on both sides until lightly browned. Remove from skillet, and when cool to handle, dicepork into small pieces. Mix into the soup, or topped on the soup.

2) Miniature grilled cheese “sandwiches”

4 slices ciabatta bread, cut into bite-size squares
1 tablespoon melted butter
Smoked Gouda cheese, cut into thin slices

Brush butter on bread. Spread bread on a cookie sheet and place cheese on about half of the pieces. Broil bread until cheese is melted. Then, sandwich pieces together and broil until golden brown.

An Asian Twist on the Cosmopolitan

I’m not too fond of alcoholic beverages these days.  I went through my phase of drinking, clubbing, and partying when I moved away for pharmacy school.  No parents.  No curfews.  Just pure partying.  I had way too much fun.  So much fun, in fact, that my grades slipped to the point where my student status was almost jeopardized a few times.  But that’s all a moot point now :)  As much drinking as I did, I never developed tolerance to alcohol.  Bummer.  After two drinks, I’d feel a good buzz.  Three drinks, I was drunk.  Four drinks, my head was spinning and I was too nauseous to move.  So I knew my limit.  But it was the birthday hazings where I couldn’t avoid five or six or more drinks from my friends.  Shot, after shot, after shot.  OMG.  I can still recall the different shots they’d hand me.  Two shots in one hand, while many more were waiting for me.  Oh, the good ol’ days :)

So I feel like I really experienced alcohol to the point where I don’t need it or miss it.  I especially don’t miss the “red Asian glow” from the alcohol.  I turn as red as a cherry almost immediately after I start consuming ONE glass of alcohol.  I get flushed, blochy red spots, really hot, a raging headache, and my heart starts to race.  It’s a horrible, horrible feeling.  And no, it’s not because I’m a lightweight.  Actually, contrary to popular belief that Asians are just lightweights when it comes to alcohol, there really is a scientific explanation for all of this.  According to the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), the majority of Asian are deficient in an enzyme called aldehyde dehydrogenase.  This enzyme is partly responsible for breaking up alcohol once it enters the body.  If the liver doesn’t efficiently metabolize or get rid of the alcohol, this produces a rapid buildup of the alcohol byproduct and the results are dramatic.  A fast increase in blood flow to the skin of the face and body causes flushing, rapid heartbeats, decreased blood pressure, headache, nausea and extreme drowsiness are just some examples that can be experienced.

Sorry, I just went off on a huge tangent.  I think the main reason that I don’t drink anymore is because of the Asian glow.  It’s such a horrible feeling that lasts for a few hours after my one drink.  However, with that being said, if and when I do have a drink (which is usually once or twice a year), it’s usually something fruity like a soju cosmopolitan.  For those who are unfamiliar with soju, it is a distilled spirit native to Korea.  The taste is comparable to vodka, but slightly sweeter and less alcohol content, which I’m all for!

Soju Cosmopolitan

1.5 ounces Soju
1 ounce Triple Sec (or Cointreau)
1.5 ounces cranberry juice
2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
Orange zest twist, garnish (optional)

Fill a cocktail shaker half way with ice. Add the soju, triple sec, and cranberry and lime juices. Cover and shake vigorously to combine and chill. Strain the cosmopolitan into a chilled martini glass. Twist the orange zest over the drink and serve.

Makes 1 drink.

Calories per serving: 120

Roasted Asparagus Bundles Wrapped with Prosciutto

Do you ever stress out about what you’ll bring to a potluck-style dinner?  I know I shouldn’t, but I am one big stress ball.  I never know what to bring.  I know I want to bring something that I hope everyone will like.  But also because I want to wow them with flavors when the food hits their taste buds.  My partner thinks I’m silly for stressing out.  She always suggests that I bring something that I’ve made before at home that tasted good.  And I know I should do that also, but I’m too stubborn to listen.  So instead, I’ll spend hours upon hours looking for the right recipe.  And when I do happen to find the right recipe, I stress over whether or not the final product will be good enough for the potluck.  I always imagine the worst case scenario.  What if I goof up during the cooking process?  What if I didn’t get enough of this or that?  What if it comes out dry or ugly or both?  What if it’s too salty?  So I’ll remind myself to do a test run before the actual day.  But do I ever?  Nope.  I wait to the last minute and run out of time to do a test run so I get even more anxious.  Yes.  I know.  I’m crazy.

After perusing numerous recipes, I decided upon stuffed bell peppers.  Well, I didn’t actually end up making the stuffed bell peppers.  I talked myself out of it.  I just wasn’t feeling it.  I was in no mood to make a trek out to the grocery store.  I wanted to be lazy.  Besides, I was already feeling very accomplished after my three hour adventure in the kitchen baking mini german chocolate cakes.  So what did I end up doing?  My classic, go-to easy side dish… roasted asparagus bundles wrapped with prosciutto.  I still had to make a trip to the grocery store, but I was only in the kitchen for 20 minutes.  The irony… it was stress-free :)  I guess I should listen to my partner more often.

Roasted Asparagus Bundles Wrapped with Prosciutto

1 to 1.5 pound of asparagus (about 24 stalks), trimmed
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 thin slices of prosciutto

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Snap the dry, woody stems off each asparagus. Wrap a slice of prosciutto for every three asparagus stalks. I find it easiest to wrap the asparagus when the prosciutto is cold (i.e., removing the prosciutto from the refrigerator right as you are going to assemble the asparagus bundles). Place on a baking sheet. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, sprinkle with salt (just a little bit since the prosciutto is salty) and freshly ground black pepper. Roast until the asparagus is tender, about 10-15 minutes. The latter really depends on your own oven. Let it cool until it reaches room temperature, and serve with lemon wedges.

A couple of different spins on this recipe: 1) you could wrap the asparagus bundles with prosciutto after the asparagus has roasted; 2) shaved parmesan or grated parmesan onto the wrapped asparagus.

Serves: 8

My first attempt at baking in 15 years… frustrating, but rewarding.

My partner’s birthday is one week from tomorrow.  Her favorite cake to devour on her birthday is a german chocolate cake, and it’s been her one request for several years now.  So it’s become a tradition… a  home-cooked meal, and a german chocolate cake.  Except that I’ve always cheated and bought the cake from a bakery.  I always made excuses for why I was never able to bake her a cake… no time, had to work, her friends were not going to eat what I bake.  Those were the most common excuses.  I’m sure there were many more.  But in actuality, I was and still am intimidated by baking.  It’s too precise for me.  I like cooking savory dishes so much more because a little dash of this, and a little dash of that, and voila!… a tasty meal.  No measurements, no thing.  Just pure intuition.

I’m a horrible baker.  The last time I attempted to bake was fifteen years ago.  I was trying to bake chocolate chip cookies from store bought ready-made cookie dough.  The cookies looked nothing like the picture.  They were flat, and dry.  Ugh.  I mean, how can you mess up ready-made cookie dough?!  They are made to be fail proof.  You just drop dough onto a buttered cookie sheet, and wait 8 to 10 minutes for cookies!  Not me.  The cookies ended up in the garbage.  From then on, I swore to myself that I would never try to bake anything sweet ever again.  Ever.  Until this year.

I promised her a homemade german chocolate cake.  We were celebrating my partner’s birthday a little early this year with a group of friends, so today was the day.  The day to bake.  The day that I’ve avoided for a very long time.  It took me three hours to make, bake and assemble.  I don’t think it should have taken this long.  I also had many other revelations along the way of making this cake.  Firstly, I can’t believe that of all cakes I tried to bake, this was the one.  This was a very involved recipe!  Secondly, I had many horrible mishaps along the way of baking.  I think it was a sign that I was not meant to be a baker.  Lastly, I realized how important it is to have at least a hand-held electric mixer.  I hand-mixed and hand beat EVERYTHING in the recipe below.  My forearms were very sore by the end of the process.  And my eggs white didn’t quite have “stiff peaks,” but it worked out.  Why didn’t I just buy the hand-held electric mixer today when I was getting some accessories at Sur La Table?!  But with that being said, the mini cakes turned out very tasty.

I also had an epiphany after assembling the cakes… I’m not a baker.  I just don’t have the patience.  I plan on buying boxed cake mix, and will make the coconut filling from scratch.  It’ll be a hybrid homemade cake :)

Mini German Chocolate Cakes (adapted from Bakers Royale)

For the cake:
2 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
6 tablespoons water
8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 ¼ cup + ¼ cup sugar
4 large eggs, separated
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter two 9-inch cake pans.

Melt both chocolates together with the 6 tablespoons of water. Use either a double-boiler or a microwave. Stir until smooth, then set aside until room temperature.

In the bowl with an electric mixer, beat the butter and 1 ¼ cup of the sugar until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Beat in the melted chocolate, then the egg yolks, one at a time.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

Mix in half of the dry ingredients into the creamed butter mixture, then the buttermilk and the vanilla extract, then the rest of the dry ingredients.

In a separate metal or glass bowl, beat the egg whites until they hold soft, droopy peaks.  Beat in the ¼ cup of sugar until stiff.

Fold about one-third of the egg whites into the cake batter to lighten it, then fold in the remaining egg whites just until there’s no trace of egg white visible.

Divide the batter into the 2 prepared cake pans, smooth the tops, and bake for about 30-35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Cool cake layers completely.  (This was a really important part of making this cake.  I think this steps allows for the cakes to be handled with more ease.  I made the mistake of handling the cake layers while they were still warm, and the cakes seemed to crumble a lot easier.  Things to learn along the way, I suppose :) )

While the cakes are baking and cooling, make the filling, syrup, and icing.

For the filling:
1 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup sugar
3 large egg yolks
3 ounces (6 tablespoons) butter, cut into small pieces
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup pecans, toasted and finely chopped
1 1/3 cups sweetened coconut, toasted

Mix the cream, sugar, and egg yolks in a medium saucepan. Put the butter, salt, toasted coconut, and pecan pieces in a large bowl.

Heat the cream mixture and cook, stirring constantly (scraping the bottom as you stir) until the mixture begins to thicken and coats the spoon (an instant-read thermometer will read 170°.)

3. Pour the hot custard immediately into the pecan-coconut mixture and stir until the butter is melted. Cool completely to room temperature. The mixture will thicken as it cools.

For the syrup:
1 cup water
¾ cup sugar
2 tablespoons dark rum

In a small saucepan, heat the sugar and water until the sugar has melted. Remove from heat and stir in the dark rum.

For the chocolate ganache:
9 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 cup heavy cream

Place the chocolate into a medium bowl.

Heat the cream in a small sauce pan over medium heat.  Bring just to a boil, watching very carefully because if it boils for a few seconds, it will boil out of the pot.  When the cream has come to a boil, pour over the chopped chocolate, and whisk until smooth.

Allow the ganache to cool slightly before pouring over a cake. Start at the center of the cake and work outward.

To assemble cakes:
Requires a 2.5 inch cake ring

Using a serrated knife, cut the two cakes in half leaving you four large, round disks. Using the cake ring, cut as many 2.5 inch diameter cakes from the four round cakes. Brush each layer with the sugar-rum syrup. Spread one teaspoonful of filling on the top of the bottom layer, then repeating with one more layer, until layer is filled except the top. Pour chocolate top, and top off with a little sprinkle of shredded coconut and a pecan to finish it.

Makes 14 individual cakes.

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